Gadling’s guide to Summer music

Summer. Music. Could any two words in the English language possibly go so well together? There’s just something about warm weather that makes you want to be outside, bare feet touching soft grass and dirt underfoot, hands in the cool night air, eardrums fluttering to the vibrations of a strumming guitar.

And aside from Summer, what could go better with music than travel? Whatever your favorite genre, this season is prime time to catch some of the best live performances you’ll see all year. So what if nothing good is playing near your hometown? Jump in the car or book that cheap plane ticket. Music is just the excuse you’re looking for to get out on the road. From the smallest local city festivals, to the giant multi-headliner events now dotting the country (and the world), it’s time to start making some travel arrangements to catch your favorite band.

We won’t pretend to list out every music festival and event going on this summer – there’s way too many. But we’ve been to our fair share of good ones – and we know what’s worth the trip. Grab those earplugs and stop making those Free Bird requests, Gadling is bringing you our picks of this Summer’s best music events, both in your backyard and around the world.
International Festivals
There are some music events so incredibly epic, bringing together so many great bands, and unique performers in such unique settings, that they’re worth a trip halfway across the globe. That’s not to mention peculiar quirks of the local crowd. What better way to meet the locals than your shared love for Metallica? The international festivals below are definitely worth your money’s worth:

  • Sonar Festival – Barcelona, Spain (June 19-21) – the cutting edge Sonar Festival, hosted in one of Europe’s most dynamic cities, brings together multimedia art and music for three days of decidedly high-tech fun and dancing. This year’s festival features big names like M.I.A. and Justice. Did we mention the city is on a beach for when you get tired of the party?
  • Glastonbury – Glastonbury, England (June 27-29)Glastonbury has long been known as one the one the premier festivals in England, if not the world, offering a huge lineup of some of pop music’s up-and-comers as well as established superstars. This year promises a similar showing, featuring hip-hop star Jay-Z, singer songwriter Leonard Cohen and bands like indie-rockers The National marquee acts such as Franz Ferdinand, Q Tip and Bruce Springsteen
  • Gnaoua Festival – Essaouira, Morocco (June 26-29) – if your musical tastes run towards the more esoteric and global, consider a trip to Morocco’s Gnaoua Festival, held each year in the lazy seaside village of Essaouira. Gnawa is type of music indigenous to Northern Africa, characterized by its soulful chanting and acrobatic dancing. As if a visit to the whitewashed town of Essaouira wasn’t reward enough, you’ll bear witness to some of the most amazing musicians from across sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Roskilde Festival – Roskilde, Denmark (July 3-6) – Denmark is not exactly a hot spot when you think of great musical events, but the annual Roskilde Festival is proof the Danes really know what they’re talking about. This year brings yet another killer lineup including uber-rockers Radiohead and Coldplay, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, Lucinda Williams, and many others.

U.S. Festivals
Alright, so the Spanish music festival is out of your budget this year. That’s not a problem really – live music is practically a birthright of American citizens, guaranteeing that each summer you’ll find a heap of great musicians touring at a concert hall or ampitheater near you. To help you figure out what to check out, we’ve broken down some of our favorites based on geography: East Coast, West and Central. Take a look:

  • EAST COAST – All Points West, New York, NY (July 31- August 2) – brought to you by the same team that pulls together the annual Coachella Festival in Indio, CA, New York City’s All Points West Festival is now entering its second year. Much as you’d expect from a sister festival to the excellent Coachella, All Points West brings in top-notch talent like the Beastie Boys and MGMT to a gorgeous waterfront park facing the Statue of Liberty.
  • CENTRAL – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, TN (June 12-15) – many people wondered what was going on when a new festival was first announced in 2002 on a 700 acre farm in Tennessee. But the detractors have long since been silenced by Bonnaroo, now one of the country’s most famous music festivals. 2009 brings yet another eclectic and stellar lineup headlined by Bruce Springsteen, Snoop Dogg, Phish and Wilco.
  • CENTRAL – Lollapalooza, Chicago, IL (August 7-9) – consider Lollapalooza as the grandfather of national music festivals. It’s been around longer than just about every other major Summer festival around, originally created by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell way back in 1991. The fact Lollapalooza no longer tours the country each Summer also works to your advantage – the festival now permanently resides in wonderful Summer climes of Chicago. Headliners this year include Depeche Mode, Kings of Leon and The Killers.
  • WEST – Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride, CO (June 18-21) – you know you have a good thing going when your festival has been ongoing for 36 years. That’s exactly the advantage of the long-running Telluride Bluegrass Festival, a celebration of a distinctly American musical style nestled in the scenic heights of the Rocky Mountains. This year’s lineup includes a diverse roster of performers including David Byrne, Elvis Costello as well as old favorites like Jerry Douglas.

Ready for an encore? We only had space to list a few of our favorite summer musical events here. What did we miss? Have a favorite festival you think we should know about? Leave us your thoughts in the comments and there very well may be a Summer music roundup “Part II” in the near future.

China to Ban Lip Synching

Only a few months after China was ripped for having a nine-year-old lip synch a song during the Olympic opening ceremonies, the Ministry of Culture is declaring war on the art of pretending to sing music that is actually being played on the sound system.

A law is in the works, but the ministry said that it wants to seek public opinion before it begins enforcement. The “public opinion” stage is a mere formality. The parliament passes nearly all laws that are sent its way. A draft of the law states: “Performers must not cheat audiences by lip-synching, and concert organizers must not arrange for performers to lip-synch.” Two time offenders will be forced to relinquish their performer’s license for a two year period. First time synchers will merely be smeared by the Ministry of Culture.

Is all this just too ironic? No really. The Olympic lip synching incident was a major loss of face for Beijing. Cracking down is a way to regain some of their respect. Unfortunately, the impending law means that all that awful, awful Mandopop will become even more unbearable because there will be no studio-perfected soundtrack to keep us from hearing a pop star’s real voice.

A Canadian in Beijing: Smooth Summer Night

As I walked back from the subway tonight in the clinging heat, I felt like I was floating. No, perhaps “coasting” is a better word. My legs were like rudders guiding my upper body smoothly and wordlessly through a thick, heavy sea of humidity. I watched the late evening Beijing sights like I was leaning over the railing on a slow moving cruise ship and being carried along.

It was dreamlike.

I’m tired tonight. I had a long day visiting friends which came on the heels of a long night of partying the night before with the university crowd. It was a celebration because our exams are over and the courses have come to a close. They’re all out again tonight, but this student (i.e. the one who is about an average of ten years older than everyone else here!) cannot keep this pace. I chose to head back to an air-conditioned dorm room to cool off and be languid.

And tonight is truly a night for the word “languid.”

Besides, I was in jeans and sneakers all day in the intense heat and I feel like a human stew. It’s not pretty and it doesn’t smell inviting. I really outta be alone tonight!

As I was walking home, though, conscious of this being my last week here, I was taking it all in like scenes from a movie. Sometimes I see my life here a bit like that, as though I’m writing my life over again and I’m the protagonist in the script who can choose what happens next – a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” film, perhaps. And, “shuo shi hua” (to tell you the truth), it’s almost like that for me here. I ride the tide of contacts and activity often not knowing what will come next; it’s a beautiful reality. I feel so far removed from my home in a Canada – a world of pre-scheduled tours and travels, some of which are pre-booked a whole year in advance. This spontaneity, or option for spontaneity, has been so incredibly liberating.

I’m going to miss it.

Tonight’s dreamy feeling started when I walked into the mouth of the subway at Chaoyang, downtown. I was washed with the sounds of cheesy pop music coming from the CD vendor’s small stereo at the bottom of the stairs. Often the subway entrances have vendors selling a variety of things and pirated CDs and DVDs are among the popular items. I have seen this vendor before, a young guy who is often strumming a guitar along with the songs, and his music is always playing. Or, shall I say it is always crackling out the speakers that are too small to handle his penchant for loud volume. This time, the song was a soundtrack-style song with fully orchestrated keyboard strings and wind chimes and soaring vocals. As I walked down the passageway under the street, the sounds of this twinkling music fading behind me felt like the score to a movie that was just beginning. It set my thoughtful tone for the whole forty-five minute trip back to Wudaokou.

I got out at the Wudaokou stop along with the many other young people pouring onto the platform. I took up my place in the spilling students going down the steps of line 13, an aboveground train, and eventually found myself on the sidewalk and being carried eastward towards my campus in the same crowd.

I first crossed the train tracks that are right beside the subway exit and I took in the track keeper’s residence. I’m not sure what his official title is, but each side of these tracks consists of a small residence space and the people who live and work on each side are responsible for the railway crossing, i.e. the announcements, the lowering and rising of the traffic arms, the security, etc.

(Well, I was told that they don’t actually live there, but it sure looks like a home to me…)

This south side looks more elaborately lived-in than the north side with laundry hanging outside the small square living quarters, a veggie garden planted on one side of the tracks in the empty plot of land (I love that there’s a garden right here in this busy urban railroad crossing!), and potted flowers in the mini courtyard. This worker has truly tried to make it a home in such a public place.

Then, just moments later, I am gliding past the outdoor restaurant and markets where vendors sell food on skewers (chuars) and steamed corn and beer. In fact, you can get just about anything here, including vegetarian fare, as long as you’re not picky about where it’s cooked. There are piles of seafood and meat and then lots of vegetables to choose from.

It is crowded on a non-rainy weekend night with tables and chatter everywhere. During the day, this open lot is deserted, but at night everything comes alive. The smells of cooking and smoke and clatter of glass bottles all hit me at once. The angle of the smells and sounds reminded me of a sudden laugh track in an old sitcom at a moment in the script that isn’t that funny. I’m not part of the merriment, but it is alive in another dimension, piped into my state of mind anachronistically.

My cruise continues, bound for its only destination: home.

(Or at least, the closest thing I have to home here, which is my dorm room.)

Crossing the street and rounding left down the pathway to the west-gate of my campus, the energy on the street has calmed. The heat is keeping the edges duller here. I slip in through the west gate past the childlike guard who is dutifully holding his rigid position and I swerve around the basketball courts to my dorm building. When the door finally closes behind me, my pants and sneakers find the floor and I sit around in my underwear enjoying the air conditioning and letting the day frame itself around my thoughts.

It is only nine o’clock at night and the credits are going to start rolling any moment. This short film of my evening is coming to a close, free of dialogue but full of sights, sounds, smells and feeling.

All we need now is a repeat of that cheesy pop music and it would be a full-circle Beijing night. Oh well, I’ll just have to replay it in my mind, fuzzy speakers and all.

Cue the wind chimes.